Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins

Two generations of great guitarists play together. Here’s Mark Knopfler (born 1949) and Chet Atkins (born 1924, died 2001) playing together (at the “Secret Policeman’s Third Ball”, whatever that is) in 1987. There are two songs: “I’ll see you in my dreams” and then John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

I suppose the relevant word is “mellow”, but “great talent” is also in there. Both of these guys make Rolling Stone’s 2011 list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Can you guess their positions? (1 is the top). The answer is at the link. (I have to say that I have a problem with that list: any ranking that puts Dickey Betts way below Derek Trucks and Keith Richards is, shall we say, problematic.)

I just realized that being a rock musician of this caliber is like being a professor at a research university: you’re pretty much your own boss and you’re getting paid to do what you really enjoy. Plus you can wear whatever you want on the job—though I did dress up a bit when when I taught undergrads. The big difference is that rock stars get their money for nothing and their chicks for free.


  1. jezgrove
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    The Secret Policeman’s Ball etc. were a series of music concerts (with some comedy sketch and stand-up interludes) held in London to raise money for Amnesty international. I went to the second one (The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball).

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 4, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Really nice guitar pieces. It turns out that it was actually The Secret Policeman’s Third Ball that I went to, but on a different night and with a different line-up. (I knew I hadn’t seen Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins, which is why I was initially mistaken.)

      • Stephen Mynett
        Posted October 5, 2020 at 2:34 am | Permalink

        The Secret Policeman’s Ball and some, perhaps all of the others are available on DVD. I have only seen the first but if you like comedy of the Monty Python type it is well worth seeing, especially as it has the Cheese Shop sketch.

        Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson and Clive James were among the performers and quite a few others but cannot remember all of them.

  2. Frank Bath
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Servants of the muse. Beautiful.

  3. Lorna Salzman
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Chet Atkins’ artistic offspring Tommy Emmanuel is hands down he world’s greatest
    guitarist/composer. Anyone who hasn’t listened to him is to be pitied. I’ve heard him in person three times…he stands up there for two hours nonstop and produces music on a level approached by no one alive.
    One song is greater than the next. Check him out all you musically deprived people!

  4. GBJames
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful balm for the day.

  5. Jan Looman
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    They put out an album together some time ago

    • Jim Hudlow
      Posted October 4, 2020 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      It is basically studio live and is one of my favorite cds of all time. Great music and a lot of fun…

      • jezgrove
        Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        The anniversary of the album’s release is coming up this week on 9 October, I see.

  6. BJ
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I posted this in one of your threads many months ago! Their album is phenomenal.

    • Posted October 4, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I don’t remember that; wasn’t trying to steal your thunder.

      • BJ
        Posted October 4, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Haha, I know. I was just messing around 🙂 There was something else you posted a couple of weeks ago that I had posted in a previous thread, though i can’t remember what. We just both have good taste.

        Really, you should check out the album. It’s truly excellent!

      • BJ
        Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        You should really check out their entire album. Here are a couple of tracks to whet your appetite. The first is an anomaly for the album, as most of the songs are very upbeat or laid back, but it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. It feels like there are lyrics being sung about love and loss, but the lyrics aren’t there because they’re being sung by the guitars:

        This might be the most fun song, with great back-and-forth between the masters, both in playing and singing, and the lyrics are adorable:

        Mark Knopfler’s solo work is also fantastic. I’d recommend starting out with the album The Ragpicker’s Dream.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    (I have to say that I have a problem with that list: any ranking that puts Dickey Betts way below Derek Trucks and Keith Richards is, shall we say, problematic.)

    Look, I love Keith; he IS the spirit of rock’n’roll as far as I’m concerned. But Ronnie Wood is a better guitarist, and Mick Taylor (who preceded Wood, and followed Brian Jones) is better than both, the best guitarist the Stones ever had.

    • Posted October 5, 2020 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      I agree, “Time Waits for No one” is Mick at his best.

  8. Jon Gallant
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Somewhat related to this thread:

    John Renbourn, Bert Jansch

  9. BJ
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    “I have to say that I have a problem with that list: any ranking that puts Dickey Betts way below Derek Trucks and Keith Richards is, shall we say, problematic.”

    Their “top 100” and similar lists are notoriously terrible, at least among us connoisseurs. They’re not rankings based on skill, creativity, innovation, etc.; they’re popularity contests.

  10. merilee
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 4:58 pm | Permalink


  11. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Yay! Knopfler is one of my two favourite guitar geniuses – the other is Dave Gilmour. Nobody else even comes close (in my personal ranking, not looking to start a competition).

    I know ‘money for nothing and their chicks for free’ is a quote from Dire Straits, but it’s satirical and of course utterly untrue, they most certainly don’t get their money for ‘nothing’ (the chicks I can’t comment on). There are some good interviews with them both on Youtube and it’s evident that their knowledge of musical technique and theory is quite equal to their extraordinary playing ability.

    Anyway, here’s the obligatory link to my favourite Mark Knopfler composition (which on the right day brings tears to my eyes)

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Knopfler and Gilmour are amongst those great guitarists who you can identify after just a few notes (along with BB King, Carlos Santana, Jimi, SRV, and a few others).

      • BJ
        Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        Wes Montgomery, Brian May, Pat Martino, Alex Lifeson (one of the most underrated guitarists in history), Chet Atkins, Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp, Paco De Lucia, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Jerry Garcia, Trey Anastasio (if you know his sound. I can even identify what “era” it was from when I hear him playing, as he used different effects at different points). I can ID all those guys when I hear a few notes. I’m sure I could come up with others, but that’s off the top of my head.

        And, of course, the king of all session players: Larry Carlton.

    • BJ
      Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I’m getting a “this video is not available” message. Which song is it?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 6, 2020 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        That’s odd, I just clicked on it and it worked for me. Try it again…?

        It was the tune (instrumental, no words) known as ‘Wild Theme’ from the soundtrack of ‘Local Hero’ also sometimes called ‘Going Home’, and it was the live version recorded at Les Arenes, Nimes, in 1993.

        Like most Knopfler/Dire Straits songs (and Gilmour/Pink Floyd ones, as it happens) it changes considerably between different performances. This is the version that does it most for me.


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 6, 2020 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          Oh, and it was posted on Youtube by Dire Straits, which I take to be their official channel, so it would be very odd if it was not available everywhere?


        • BJ
          Posted October 6, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know why. It might have something to do with my blocking some scripts on WordPress, though that shouldn’t make a difference and doesn’t with any other Youtube video. If I remember correctly, you live in a different country, so it’s probably region-locked.

          Anyway, I found it on Youtube and it’s awesome. I love the roar of the crowd as soon as they realize what he’s playing. And I can’t imagine what it would be like to see a concert in that arena!

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 6, 2020 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I live in NZ, and I quite often get ‘Not available in your region’ messages, though why NZ should be okay and US blocked in this particular instance I can’t imagine.
            I agree, a concert in Nimes would indeed be awesome, I love the South of France. Oh for a time machine…


  12. GBJames
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    I think they got #1 correct.

  13. Robert Van Orden
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Dr. Coyne, for making me aware of such lovely guitar music. My favorite type of music of all.

    In the fairly narrow genre of ‘Punk/Metal/Hard Rock’ can there be any doubt that Hendrix was king? Exhibit A:

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Listening to those boys play the livin’ hell outta Mr. Lennon’s “Imagine” on guitar reminds me of a story. (Of course, these days, at my age, most everything reminds me of an old story.)

    In 1980, when John Lennon got clipped by Mark David Chapman, I was working as a bartender in a Polynesian joint. On the weekends, the place had a cookin’ steel-drum band. (What Caribbean steel drums had to do with Polynesia, I could never figure out, but both come from islands, right?, which I guess was close enough for tourists.)

    During the week, there was an older gay guy (and by “older,” I mean like halfway between the twenty-something I was then and the sixty-something I am now) who would come in and play show tunes and standards on the piano in the lounge. The restaurant served a staff meal before the dining room opened and, since the piano player didn’t come in until later, I used to set a plate aside for him under a metal cover under the heat lamp, so the two of us had become pals of sorts. I’d come in early to do the bar set-up work and, when I’d finish early, sometimes I’d wonder over to noodle around on the piano before the place opened. (As a kid, I’d taken some piano lessons — an instrument, it turns out, for which I was almost singularly untalented — but I learned the keyboard and to read music, after a fashion, and knew a couple songs well enough to charge my way through.)

    Anyway, the day after Lennon was killed, I headed to work early and stopped on the way at my favorite record shop (in those days, you bought your music from an actual store, on vinyl LPs stacked in big bins), which also had a small sheet music section. I bought the sheet music for “Imagine,” determined to teach myself to play it on the piano in the lounge as a gesture of respect for John.

    The bar was slow that night, so the other bartender was handling it alone, while I was still working my way through “Imagine” when the piano player showed up to start his gig. He saw me sitting at his piano, stopped, listened to me struggle through a couple bars, shook his head, and told me to scoot over on the piano bench. He sat down next to me, showed me the proper fingering and helped me get the tempo right. (I quit trying to sing along, figuring it was bad enough the poor soul had to hear my lousing playing, let alone to subject him to my even worse singing voice.)

    I still think of that incident almost every time I hear “Imagine.”

    • GBJames
      Posted October 4, 2020 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Lennon being shot is one of those “remember where you were” events for people my age. I was driving the lab van back to the archaeology lab. About two blocks away from the lab. Burned into my brain.

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 4, 2020 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Ken – an interesting story. I remember that day well, too. It was my mother’s birthday (she’s still with us, at 84) and I failed my driving test for the first time. It had snowed recently, something that doesn’t happen for more than a few days a year, if at all, in southeast England where I grew up, so I has no experience of driving in it. The snow had melted everywhere except the one street which the b*stard driving examiner picked for the emergency stop. I skidded and failed the test. Of course, due to the time difference (no 24-hour rolling news back then) we didn’t hear about Lennon’s death in the UK until the next day. My sister saw Queen playing in London on December 9th; Roger Taylor had a picture of Lennon on his bass drum head and Freddie Mercury sang a cover of Imagine.

  15. chis moffatt
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Ah finally – a list of the 100 greatest 3-chord tossers. Whoopee. Looked in vain for Tommy Emanuel, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Johnny Smith, John Williams, Birelli Lagrene, Montoya, Sabicas, Django, Segovia to name but a few…..


    • GBJames
      Posted October 4, 2020 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Relax, Chris. This list is from Rolling Stone!

  16. Dave
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Mark Knopfler isn’t too outgoing. And neither is Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. It’s not too surprising that things reportedly didn’t click when Knopfler was asked to come in a record a guitar solo for the Steely Dan Gaucho album. But it did end up making it on to the record.

  17. ubernez
    Posted October 4, 2020 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m an aussie, and bias aside, Tommy Emmanuel (and his brother Phil) usedd to play at the my university bar. Tommy is unrivalled.

    As a classical guitarist, John Williams is unparalleled. (And his foray with Sky just adds bonus points.

    All names are subjective – except these two who are the Ground of all Being, I mean Music…

    Those who disagree have just not opened their heart to the truth, and shall perish for eternity in the flames of Milli Vanilli hellfire.

    (Too strong..?)

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